News / Middle East

Beirut Bounces Back from Civil War

James Brooke
Only 20 years ago, Beirut was in ruins after its civil war. Today, it’s the turn of neighboring Syria to go through civil war. But the rebirth of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, shows how cities can bounce back.

Beirut's old Holiday Inn, pockmarked by bullet holes, reminds visitors how gun battles once raged along the Green Line that divided Muslim West from Christian East.

One generation later, street cafes are filled. Beirut’s new cityscape is one of elegant shop windows, high-rise apartment and office towers - and construction cranes. Beirut has been largely rebuilt.

Oliver Martin-Robinson, a British analyst here, watches high-rises sprout up. “There’s a big boom in Lebanon in building, and it’s been going on for quite a while,” says Martin-Robinson. “It’s generally focused on luxury properties, luxury office space as well in downtown.”

Ronnie Chatah, a city historian, leads Walk Beirut, a city tour. He has a hard time finding buildings surviving from the Ottoman and French colonial periods of a century ago. “There are pockets within Beirut, they’re called traditional quarters, there is some belated restoration,” said Chatah. “There isn’t much of it.  I think reconstruction, or at least redevelopment took precedence over restoration, and I think at a loss to Beirut’s history, or at least its architectural history.”

  • An overview of Beirut, Lebanon, which bounced back partly because of its location on the water. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • Beirut buildings rise higher and higher as everyone struggles to get a sea view. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • Building cranes punctuate Beirut's skyline. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • Place de l’Etoile was once a sniper’s alley of ravaged buildings. The square has been painstaking reconstructed, including the French colonial clock tower. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • A boy with a toy gun poses with a Lebanese Army soldier, who patrols Place de l’Etoile. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • A decaying Ottoman-era house across a street from a well maintained one. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • Construction cranes and a bombed out, egg-shaped movie theater near the blue domed Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, which was completed in 2007. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • The destruction of a French colonial government building from the 1920s during the civil war uncovered Roman baths from 2,000 years ago. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • With the building frenzy reshaping Beirut, it takes a little looking to find the archaeological layer of the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, only one generation ago. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • The scarred hulk of the old Holiday Inn, with bushes sprouting out of the old Sky Bar, looms over downtown Beirut – a reminder of the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. (VOA/V. Undritz)
  • A high end boutique near the old Holiday Inn, where the Lebanese Army parks armored personnel carriers. (VOA/V. Undritz)

Many luxury shopping malls and million-dollar apartments were built for ‘Gulfies.’ These wealthy tourists from the Persian Gulf came to enjoy Beirut’s lifestyle - historically tolerant and sometimes hedonistic.

But after civil war broke out in Syria, reports of violence scared away tourists. The governments of Gulf nations and of Turkey have warned their citizens not to visit Beirut this year because of the threat of spillover violence from Syria.

Martin-Robinson again: “Occupancy rates are generally very low in downtown.  You can see that in the fact that there just aren’t many people around here.  A lot of it is owned by people from the Gulf.  As you know, they’ve been staying away, so the places have remained empty.”

Despite war next door, buildings keep rising in Beirut.

Chatah, the tour guide, says it is a mix of location and of Lebanese entrepreneurial spirit. “Beirut’s location is its beauty and its curse at the same time," says Chatah.  Yes it’s on the Mediterranean. It has this beautiful backdrop - Mount Lebanon, snowcapped mountain. And at the same time, this is where most of the Middle East wars are fought - here in Beirut.”

One stop on his tour is a newly discovered, 2,000-year-old Roman bath. It had been hidden for centuries, most recently under a French colonial government building.

Since the Roman era, Beirut has gone through earthquakes, wars and invasions. Each time, “the Diamond of the Middle East” bounces back, with a sparkle.

You May Like

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Crowdfunding Helps Save Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit

Smithsonian turns to Kickstarter to raise more than $700,000 to help preserve the spacesuit worn by the first man to walk on the moon More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs